Keeping Parliament in the dark

Des Browne 4x3.jpgLord Des Browne of Ladyton is a former Defence Secretary and a backbench Labour peer in the House of Lords

As Prime Minister, David Cameron has attended two NATO Summits: one in Lisbon in November 2010, the other in Chicago a fortnight ago.

After Lisbon, in his statement to Parliament, Mr Cameron said “the test for NATO now is whether it can meet the challenges of the present and the future.  And that means real change. Not just signing communiqués about change, but showing real political will to bring those changes about”. Then he promised that NATO would “shift its focus and resources still further from the old Cold Wars of the past to the new unconventional threats of the future”.

As part of the necessary ‘real change’, NATO had spent the year before Lisbon re-writing its main doctrine, the Strategic Concept, but didn’t finish the job in time. It did manage to agree that 'as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance'. The apparent clarity of this statement masked an inability of member states to agree on key issues about NATO’s nuclear deterrents. 

At the same time, NATO agreed to 'develop the capability to defend our populations and territories against ballistic missile attack as a core element of our collective defence'. However, this too hid significant differences about the role of ballistic missile defence in NATO’s future mix of capabilities.

The Lisbon Summit solved this continuing disagreement by a procedural device and tasked the NATO Council 'to continue to review NATO’s overall posture in deterring and defending against the full range of threats to the Alliance'.  This process, the Defence and Deterrence Posture Review (DDPR) set out to consider the appropriate mix of nuclear, conventional and missile defence forces for NATO and reported to the Chicago Summit.

Big stuff, pretty fundamental to whether NATO could 'meet the challenge of the present and the future', and very challenging, not to say very difficult, in an age of reducing defence budgets, you might think.

Why then, did the Prime Minister not report on this decision and explain the continuing process on his return from Lisbon?  Since then, there have been the usual rounds of NATO Defence and Foreign Ministerial meetings and the NATO Council has been carrying out the Review.  Why then, not a word to Parliament?

I asked the House of Lords Library to research and find any parliamentary material or references relating to the DDPR. They reported back that the only relevant material they could find were the questions I tabled, and which were answered last week. 

At Chicago, NATO concluded the DDPR with a statement of less than 3,000 words.  No experienced NATO watcher will be surprised that, despite the language of change, the universal support that its leaders have given the Obama Prague Agenda and its commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons, the final document substantially preserves the status quo.

Perhaps it is no surprise that, in his post-Chicago statement to parliament, Mr Cameron neglected to mention the DDPR again. The issues covered by this Review and the decisions made will shape NATO’s posture for a decade or more.  This should not happen without appropriate parliamentary scrutiny and accountability. Such decisions have major implications for Euro-Atlantic security and, importantly, create the environment which will determine our relationship with Russia.  If we do not get this right, we risk sleepwalking back into the Cold War. 

For all of these reasons, I am pleased that, at the second time of asking, I secured a short debate.  For the sustainable security of the Euro-Atlantic area, let us hope that it is the first of many that Parliament will have on the subject.

Do you like this page?


Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

The Labour Party will place cookies on your computer to help us make this website better.

Please read this to review the updates about which cookies we use and what information we collect on our site.

To find out more about these cookies, see our privacy notice. Use of this site confirms your acceptance of these cookies.